Honours degree for the grandson of Scotland's 'oldest PhD'

Date posted

6 July 2021


A young student has followed in the footsteps of his education trailblazer grandfather to graduate from Edinburgh Napier University.

David Hughes standing at memorial bench with plaque, holding degree scroll

David Hughes drew inspiration from the academic exploits of Dr David Dick – the first Vice Principal of Napier College who returned to the institution after it was granted University status to complete a PhD at the age of 84.

Growing up, the younger David was driven to succeed in his own right by his grandfather’s achievements, anecdotes and enthusiastic interest in his education.

Now, less than six months after his grandfather passed away, it’s 22-year-old David’s turn in the spotlight as he has been awarded a BA (Hons) in Social Sciences as part of the Class of 2021.

Ex-Royal High School pupil David, from Edinburgh but now of North Queensferry, said: “My grandfather’s knowledge and scholarship, alongside his genuine interest in my studies, were an inspiration during my journey to becoming an undergraduate student and continued throughout my time at University.

“I was excited and encouraged by his anecdotes, as well as his academic achievements in his retired life.”

Wartime telegram boy David Dick became a hydroelectric engineer then lecturer, and following his Vice Principal stint at Napier College from 1964, he was Principal at Edinburgh’s Stevenson College from 1970 - 1988.

He spent his retirement years engaged in the constant pursuit of learning, securing a BA (Hons) at the Open University, a Masters of Literature at the University of Dundee, and his doctorate in philosophy at Edinburgh Napier in 2013, which saw him reportedly crowned Scotland’s oldest PhD graduate.

He was awarded an OBE in 1982 for services to both education and the fire service, of which he chaired the examination board in Scotland for 17 years.

David said: “My grandfather and I spoke on numerous occasions about the difficulties of my dissertation topic, titled ‘Analysis of Scottish Nationalism in 2021 and how it is perceived amongst generational cohorts in Scotland’, and he always asked how I was getting on as the research was coming together.

“His passing in January at the age of 91 was extremely difficult. However, the perseverance he showed in his work spurred me on to complete my own studies in the belief that my grandfather would have been proud of my work and achievements.

“I have dedicated my dissertation in his memory.”

David now hopes to follow his childhood dream of achieving an aircrew role in the Royal Air Force or Royal Navy.

Dr John Burnett, lecturer in Edinburgh Napier’s School of Applied Sciences, said: “David’s enthusiasm, diligence, intelligence and determination to succeed are qualities clearly evident in his grandfather’s incredibly rich and impressive life story.

“The first class mark he achieved for his dissertation is a testament to the hard work, resourcefulness and considerable academic skill in the planning, design and execution of what is a complex and challenging topic – even without the trials and tribulations of the ongoing pandemic.

“I’m sure David’s late grandfather would’ve been incredibly proud of his achievements – and rightly so!” 

School of Applied Sciences

Our applied approach to science and social sciences makes a positive impact both nationally and internationally. Through our strength in research, and our reputation for 5-star teaching (QS), our graduates are recognised as work-ready from day one.